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Aston Villa

Why Scott Sinclair and Celtic are the perfect fit



The 27-year-old English winger is a very talented football player, and was highly rated after his spell with Swansea City at the start of the decade, scoring 28 goals in 82 games for the Swans.

However, a disastrous spell at Manchester City left Scott Sinclair’s career in serious jeopardy, in the same way the financial giants destroyed young English hopefuls Adam Johnson, Jack Rodwell and almost Raheem Sterling.

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Last season, Sinclair got his escape from the Sky Blues after having spent a season on loan at Aston Villa, but if anything landed himself in an even murkier situation at the drowning Villa, but it did allow him time on the pitch to contribute to his team and perhaps more importantly prove his worth.

After Aston Villa’s relegation to the Football Championship, the man from Bath made the move north to Scotland, signing for Celtic after finding the net on two occasions for Aston Villa in one season.

Six games into the Scottish league season, Brendan Rodgers’ Celtic have only dropped two points and already have a four-point buffer to Aberdeen in second, with new signings Moussa Dembélé and Scott Sinclair contributing heavily to the Hoops’ continuation of domination at the top of Scottish football.

So, what is it that makes Scott Sinclair and Celtic such a good match?

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To understand it is important to look back at Sinclair’s history, and in particular his relationship with Brendan Rodgers with whom he has teamed up with in the Scottish capital.

Sinclair’s first club were Bristol Rovers, where he stayed for just one season in 2004-2005 before joining Chelsea for an initial fee of £200,000. The speedy forward stayed with the Blues all the way until 2010, but was sent away on loan to several clubs from 2007 onward, including Plymouth Argyle, QPR, Charlton Athletic, Crystal Palace, Birmingham City and Wigan Athletic.

Chelsea was the first time Sinclair worked under Rodgers, with the Northern Irishman working as Jose Mourinho’s youth and then reserve manager. Despite not playing a great deal for the 2011-2012 Champions League winners, Sinclair did have some key moments, including setting up Frank Lampard’s 100th Chelsea goal, but all in all his time in West London mainly taught him resolve, jumping around from various clubs waiting for his chance to shine.

That chance came in 2010, when Brendan Rodgers signed the winger for Swansea City as he looked to get the Swans promoted to the Premier League.

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Rodgers duly did so, and Scott Sinclair was one of the key men in Swansea’s success, blossoming a special relationship between manager and player, with the player recently commenting how he feels Rodgers believes in him and gives him confidence.

Sinclair’s goal-scoring ratio in the Championship winning 2010-11 season was more than a goal every two games in a season which saw him net his first career hat-trick, and he kept on impressing the following season in the Premier League, scoring on eight occasions.

This was enough to persuade Manchester City to come in for the forward, but things didn’t really work out in Manchester, with Sinclair making just 19 appearances in a Sky Blue shirt.

Aston Villa provided the platform to re-impress, but the whole team was totally sapped of confidence, so instead of gaining plaudits for his own individual performances all the focus was on the team’s woeful defending and incredible slump.

A chance to link up with Brendan Rodgers once again was too good to miss, and after impressing in pre-season, Sinclair has now scored six goals in Celtic’s first six league games, scoring in all of them and looking like the bargain of the century at just £3 million.

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To return to the original question after that history lesson, the main two reasons Sinclair has proved to be a revelation at Scottish champions Celtic are Brendan Rodgers and resolve.

Sinclair has been his most impressive at Swansea and now Celtic, teams which the former Liverpool manager has been at the helm of. It could be argued that Sinclair’s upturn of form compared to last season is because of the ease of the SPL compared to the Premier League and this in part is true, but Rodgers has proven to be able to get the best out of the Englishman. And everyone knows a player plays much better when he is full of confidence.

The second reason – resolve – mainly stems from his frequent loan spells when at Chelsea and frustrating time on the bench at Manchester City. He now has the sincere urge to prove himself, and has a manager who believes in him right behind him.

This links to why he suits Celtic. Sinclair brings with him plenty of experience from the various tiers of English football, and is a goal threat particularly when on the break with his pace and dribbling ability. Celtic tend to dominate teams, and Sinclair has the ability and composure to beat a man and keep hold of the ball. He is a perfect wide option for the Bhoys who like a deep squad to cope with European competition.

Scott Sinclair has certainly made a difference in just one month at Celtic, and could either be on the way back to the Premier League or to becoming a club legend at Celtic. But either way, Celtic fans will be glad they have got him.

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Aston Villa

Can Aston Villa and Steve Bruce afford to blow their big opportunity?

After a difficult start to life in the Championship, Aston Villa are now in a favourable position to secure a return to the Premier League under Steve Bruce, writes columnist Jake Jackman.

Jake Jackman



Photo: Reuters

Aston Villa have climbed up the Championship table and, after a run of six consecutive victories, should now be considered serious promotion contenders.

The Midlands club have struggled since being relegated from the Premier League and it has taken them some time to adjust to the second tier, but they are now emerging as one of the best teams in the division.

The club’s critics will point to the amount of money that has been spent since arriving in the second tier, but, in truth, the squad needed a complete overhaul and the Villains are now benefitting from that.

They are currently third in the division, but they trail Derby County by only one point and will be confident that they can move ahead of Gary Rowett’s side.

Villa are building momentum at the right time and no team will relish the prospect of playing against Steve Bruce’s men.

The manager is a major reason why the club have to be considered as favourites to clinch the second automatic promotion place, as he has a proven track record of getting teams over the line.

He has won promotion to the Premier League on four occasions and that will stand him in good stead to achieve a similar feat at Villa Park.

A quick look at the squad that faced Burton Albion shows the quality and experience that Bruce currently has at his disposal.

John Terry is a winner and after a slow start to life as a Championship player, he has found his stride. His leadership will be crucial over the coming months.

Ahmed El Mohamady, James Chester, Alan Hutton, Robert Snodgrass, Glenn Whelan and Mile Jedinak have all achieved success in the Premier League, which makes them great players to have when challenging for promotion.

Meanwhile, Jack Grealish, Josh Onomah and Keinan Davis have the ability to inject flair and energy into any performance.

It has been a period of recovery for Aston Villa, but they are now coming out fighting and the supporters have a team they can believe in again.

At the tail end of the Championship standings, there are examples of what can happen if the team isn’t run correctly after relegation.

Sunderland are second bottom and have only won five times in 30 league matches. Meanwhile, Hull City are just one place above them in the table.

Both clubs could face back-to-back relegations and, considering the supposed financial advantage they should hold over the rest of the league, their struggles are indicative of poor leadership from the top.

Although Tony Xia has caused problems for Aston Villa since taking over as the owner of the football club, namely through his Twitter feed, he has stabilised the club and provided the finances needed to build a team that can compete in the Championship.

The Chinese businessman made headlines when he bought the club,  speaking of his desire to win the Champions League within ten seasons, as evidenced by the following quotes from the Telegraph:

“We don’t have a very detailed plan but we have a vision that we will challenge to get back into the Premier League and we will be challenging when we get back.

”The aim, not just the hope, is to get back in the European field within five years and I wish we can succeed to get another trophy like we have here in eight or 10 years. That is not an exact number, but we want to win the European Cup.

“It is really important to get promoted in the first season as everybody hopes but all we can do is do our best.”

There is nothing wrong with ambition and, as Leicester City showed when they won the Premier League in 2016, the impossible remains possible in football.

However, coming in as a new owner of a club that had just been embarrassed in the Premier League, it wasn’t the right time to speak about achieving success in Europe.

First and foremost, he had to sort out the mess that he had inherited.

He initially appointed Roberto di Matteo and that turned out to be a poor move.

The Italian had previously won promotion with West Brom and the Champions League with Chelsea, but he wasn’t the appointment that the club needed.

Villa required a manager who had the experience of winning promotion and building a squad capable of achieving it, from scratch.

Di Matteo didn’t stay in the position long. Villa were struggling in 19th position after just 11 league matches, with only one win to their name.

Xia made the decision to relieve the Italian of his duties and started a managerial search from scratch.

The appointment that followed showed how much the Chinese businessman had learned from his short time in football, as Steve Bruce came in.

The Geordie was exactly what the club needed and the patience shown by the board underlines the faith they have in him.

The first season after relegation was a tough one. Villa were humbled and finished a lowly 13th. However, Xia didn’t panic and he deserves credit for that.

Compared to the actions of some owners in recent years, the Chinese businessman doesn’t come across as too volatile, despite what his social media profile would have you believe.

Steve Bruce’s recruitment since has been very shrewd. He has brought in players that are proven in the Championship, alongside those with a sprinkling of Premier League class.

Robert Snodgrass would fit into both categories, while the likes of Henri Lansbury and Conor Hourihane know what is required to succeed in the lower leagues.

During January, Villa were keen to add to their ranks to maintain their positive momentum and their signing of Lewis Grabban looks to be a masterstroke.

The striker scored 12 times during the first half of the season with Sunderland, in a team that was struggling badly. His reputation soared and he will provide another source of goals for the promotion-chasing side.

The next few months will be defining for Aston Villa. Their need for promotion is greater than other clubs competing at the top of the Championship due to their wage bill and stature.

A club the size of the Midlands outfit can’t afford to be outside of the Premier League for too long, especially if they want to continue growing.

The finances on offer in the top-flight are huge and the longer the club are missing out on that, the greater the gap will become.

They are in a strong position with a proven manager and talented playing staff. It is now up to them to take that final step and return to the level where they belong.

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Aston Villa

Why the FA Cup weekend provides a big opportunity for Aston Villa



Aston Villa
Photo: Reuters

It was the best of times. It was the worst of the times. It was panic mode. It was ‘don’t worry’. It was December. A month, for Aston Villa, that does not bring many gifts.

In the twelfth month of the year, it is usually the time of the football season where you can expect Villa’s hopes to collapse. Of course, the club have ironically lead league tables before November eroded into December. After Christmas the club is usually lucky to have a hand on the top half of the table!

And again, that’s almost how it went for Aston Villa in 2017. A blown two goal lead, a draw, a defeat and another loss. Steve Bruce’s reign at Villa has been defined by streaks. A stint of winning, coldly sandwiched between two barren spells.

After a Boxing Day bashing by promising coach Dean Smith and his plucky Brentford side the tide seemed to be turning against Steve Bruce for the final time. Booed off rather viciously by an angry pack of away fans at Griffin Park, the 57-year-old head coach was quick to defend himself.

He was even quicker to do so when he escaped Middlesbrough with three points a few days after, and by the dawn of the new year – after taking six points against two very good sides, including a resounding 5-0 win against Bristol City – he was more than happy to take the plaudits.

Now, after a barrage of cold surf, Villa’s manager now seems to be riding a waves of optimism into 2018.

Villa’s first match post New Year’s Day is a FA Cup 3rd round tie against League One outfit Peterborough United. These matches are usually dismissed by those who are too quick to get down to the business of the league.

However, while the FA Cup might not offer glory, it certainly offers opportunity to teams like Aston Villa, who would do well not to turn their nose up at England’s oldest club football competition.

The FA Cup? For Villa, it’s an opportunity for rebirth. It is not a throwaway fixture at Villa Park in any sense of the world. Why? It allows the team to experiment, rotate and try out new things that they may be too scared to implement in a league fixture.

It also allows them to give extremely talented youngsters like Jake Doyle-Hayes, Easah Suliman and Callum O’Hare some valuable first-team game time. What is more, it allows an erratic side to settle into form, with a big chance for a win on offer.

Scott Hogan will likely be allowed a full ninety minutes of football to continue his decent spell, and a few goals will do nothing but help him along.

Among other things, it also gives Villa a look at a decent League One side. Many clubs are chasing Jack Marriott, who leads the line for the Posh. Seeing a ready-made replacement for any departing striker can do the Bruce’s team no harm. Well, as long as he doesn’t bang a few goals past Jed Steer.

The flip side of this? It is also a good way for the Birmingham side to put second-stringers and reserve players in a shop window. Especially considering it is very much a ‘sell-to-buy’ situation for the club this January.

Villa and Steve Bruce would be wise to pay close attention to Saturday’s fixture, as it represents a massive chance for this side to grow and really galvanise their season.

It has been a stop-start campaign so far and a good win against a talented Peterborough side in the FA Cup certainly won’t hurt Villa. In truth, it could be a really good opportunity to learn a lot more about Bruce’s current squad.

Villa won’t win the FA Cup, but a good run will only boost their season. Ignoring fixture congestion and other intangibles of which we cannot measure the impact, any match where a loss is not of huge detriment can only help one of the Championship’s most exciting, talented and erratic teams grow.

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Aston Villa

Exclusive: Aston Villa’s Conor Hourihane on his creative prowess and the Villans’ season ahead

Jake Jackman



Conor Hourihane

Aston Villa have had a challenging start to the season and are in 10th position after eight matches. This is three places higher than the position they finished in during the 2016/17 campaign and supporters have grown frustrated at the club’s inability to establish themselves at the top of the division. However, their struggles underline how difficult the Championship can be. Reputations mean nothing and it won’t be easy for the Villans to return to the Premier League.

The squad upheaval hasn’t helped, as they have signed 22 players since relegation. The individuals that have been brought in won’t all be seen as good deals for the club, but Conor Hourihane is one that Steve Bruce will look to build the team around this season.

In a period of transition, it took time for the midfielder to earn himself a regular starting place. He has managed to do that now after a good start to the season in front of goal. The 26-year-old has five in the league, which included an excellent hat-trick against Norwich City. He revealed his delight at his own start of the season, before moving on to address the club’s results to date:

“Yes, it was great, a great feeling. It was my first hat-trick. “

“They have been up and down, we’re starting to find our feet a little bit now and are unbeaten in a few games, we’ve had a few draws in a row that could have gone either way but overall it’s been an average start.”

It is clear that the players understand the frustration of the supporters, but the four draws could have gone Villa’s way and if they had done, they would be in a healthier position now. The Championship is a tight league, which is why Hourihane is a key player for Steve Bruce’s side. He can unlock defences and win points for his team, as he has proven on a consistent basis since arriving in the Championship.

Last season, he finished top of assists in the Championship with 14 spread across his time at Barnsley and Aston Villa. He created a chance every 41.3 minutes throughout the campaign, but Hourihane was keen to stress that he is a complete midfielder, rather than one that focuses on attacking contribution:

“I suppose that’s what the stats show but for me I’d like to think I’m a bit of an all-rounder who can do bits of everything. Last year it went well for myself from that point of view but I think if I don’t get as many assists but we are playing well as a team and up there at the top of the league I will take that any day of the week.”

It is refreshing to hear that Hourihane isn’t letting last season’s personal success affect his aims for the coming season. Aston Villa need to develop a strong mentality if they are to challenge for promotion, with the team needs going before that of any individual. If the Villans can return to the Premier League this season, it would be a far more enjoyable achievement for the midfielder.

There were many reasons why Aston Villa were relegated and it was a result of a decline across a number of seasons. The recruitment policy didn’t help. In the summer of 2015, the majority of signings came from Ligue 1 and the club no longer had a British core. Their motives may have been more self-oriented, which is why the above comments from Hourihane are very encouraging. The team is beginning to become one that supporters can connect with and they should be a lot tougher as well. This is a trait every promotion-winning team needs to have.

Barnsley were the surprise package of the Championship last season and Hourihane’s performances for them were the reason why Aston Villa wanted to bring him in. During the first half of the season, he contributed six goals and 11 assists.

There wasn’t a shortage of interest in his services during the January window, with Sheffield Wednesday being heavily linked. However, it was Villa that won the race and their ambition played a key role in persuading the midfielder to make the switch. When asked what attracted him to the Midlands, he responded:

“The size of the club, the history and the where the club wants to take itself.”

It isn’t surprising that Aston Villa were an attractive club for Hourihane. The 26-year-old has had to work his way up from the lower leagues and will see his current club as his best chance of completing the journey into the top-flight.

Every good football career starts off with a failure and Hourihane’s is no different. The midfielder failed to make a first-team appearance for either of his first two clubs, Sunderland and Ipswich Town. That will have been a huge blow for the player at an early stage of his career, but he showed an impressive mentality to go down the leagues and forge a career on his own terms.

At Home Park, he improved year-on-year and his final season with the club saw him score nine times. A move to Barnsley followed and it was in Yorkshire that he made a name for himself, as he was a regular scorer with 23 across two seasons in League One. In his final full season with the Tykes, he was an integral figure as they won the Football League Trophy and gained promotion through the play-offs. Hourihane believes that his career to date has prepared him well for Aston Villa:

“It’s probably given me a different education to the lads that are here, a lot of them started off higher and have found themselves at Aston Villa and I’ve started off lower and ended up at Aston Villa right now and myself and the players have met in the middle and hopefully that would be a good mixture to take us up the table and ultimately where we want to be and get promoted.”

The make-up of the Aston Villa squad is a point of interest, as they have players like Hourihane with no top-flight experience playing alongside a Champions League winner in John Terry. In the Championship, the experience and know-how possessed by the midfielder is equally, if not more, important than that of the former England captain.

The 26-year-old’s main focus will be helping Aston Villa return to the Premier League, but he also wants to establish himself in the Republic of Ireland team. He has been capped eight times and that has certainly whet his appetite for more in the future.

Yes, I’m hoping so, I’ve been involved in a few squads now for the last six months, made another appearance recently so hopefully if I keep playing well for Aston Villa that will only benefit my international career.”

The next few weeks are crucial for Aston Villa as they try to make up ground on the leading pack. They have matches against Burton Albion and Bolton Wanderers coming up in the next two. No match is easy in this division, but Steve Bruce will be looking to take six points.

It is early in the season, but Hourihane is the team’s current top-scorer. Although he is unlikely to finish the campaign with the most goals, the 26-year-old will be key to their promotion chances.

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